Democratic Sen. Mark Kelly is the winner of the Arizona Senate race, NBC News projects, defeating Blake Masters, a Republican backed by former President Donald Trump.
Kelly's projected victory on Friday comes three days after polls closed, and as Arizona officials continued counting ballots that were mailed in or dropped off, particularly in the vote-rich Maricopa County, home to Phoenix. It gives Democrats 49 Senate seats, one short of securing a majority, with Nevada still counting votes and Georgia's contest headed to a Dec. 6 runoff.
Kelly ran as a moderate, breaking with President Joe Biden on issues like immigration as he sought to navigate headwinds generated by Biden’s low approval rating and widespread economic pain due to rising costs. He promised to protect abortion rights and build on Democrats’ achievements in recent years, including laws to boost competition with China and to lower prescription drug costs.
“Thank you to the people of Arizona for re-electing me to the United States Senate,” Kelly said in a statement. “From day one, this campaign has been about the many Arizonans — Democrats, Independents, and Republicans — who believe in working together to tackle the significant challenges we face.”
Kelly carried moderates by a margin of 63% to 33% and independents by a margin of 55% to 39%, NBC News exit polls showed. Kelly won women by 12 points and lost men by 4 points. Kelly and Masters broke even with white voters but Kelly carried the state's large Latino electorate by 18 points, assuring his victory.
Masters was weakened after fighting an ugly Republican primary, which he won with the financial backing of his former boss, venture capitalist Peter Thiel, then struggled to consolidate the party's base as he stumbled on issues like abortion. He sought to connect Kelly to Biden and blame the two Democrats for inflation.
In a statement Saturday morning, Masters said he wants to "make sure that every legal vote is counted" before conceding the race.
"If, at the end, Senator Kelly has more of them than I do, then I will congratulate him on a hard-fought victory. But voters decide, not the media; let's count the votes," Masters said.
Kelly had led in the polls for months as he showed his fundraising muscle and appealed to Arizona moderates. That steady lead prompted the biggest GOP Senate super PAC — Senate Leadership Fund, aligned with Minority Leader Mitch McConnell — to abandon the race in the closing months and focus on closer contests.
Inflation was the top issue for 36% of voters, and Masters won them by 40 points, exit polls found. Abortion was close behind as the top issue for 32% of voters, and Kelly dominated them by 84 points.
Masters, alongside other GOP candidates atop the ballot in Arizona, promoted Trump’s false election claims, saying in an early campaign ad, “I think Trump won in 2020.” At a recent debate, Masters danced around the question of whether Biden legitimately won.
Arizona, once a Republican stronghold, had trended toward Democrats in recent years, narrowly voting for Biden in 2020 and electing Democratic senators in 2018 and 2020.
Kelly was elected in a 2020 special election. His victory gives him a full six-year term for the seat that Republican Sen. John McCain held for decades. The state’s other senator, Democrat Kyrsten Sinema, is up for re-election in 2024.
Appearing on Fox News moments before NBC News projected his defeat, Masters took a swing at McConnell when asked about his aligned super-PAC pulling funds from the race.
“I will leave it to the viewer to decide whether it is just malice or whether it’s gross incompetence, but clearly Mitch McConnell cares about Mitch McConnell and less about a Senate majority or the people of America. I think we need a change. That’s why I ran for office. And one way or another, change is coming.”